Ex-pat Canadian and long-time New Yorker David Rakoff is an extremely funny man. This, his second release (following a collection of autobiographical essays called Fraud) is for the most part an extremely funny book.
Rakoff, a writer at large for GQ magazine and a contributor to several other storied American publications, takes aim here at his adopted culture in all its excesses and contradictions. Fittingly, the opening essay details the story of Rakoff’s quest for American citizenship and subsequent disappointment with his first voting experience (George Bush gets re-elected). From there we follow Rakoff through a series of mostly unrelated pieces, many of which appear to be inspired by the various junkets he has taken for the publications he writes for.
A trip on the Concorde (one of its last) is compared with a flight on upstart Hooters Air (which proves it is possible to land with one’s tray table out, drink intact). While observing a softcore Playboy shoot in Belize, he is given a personal manservant. And a trip to Paris gets him second-row seats at the exclusive Gaultier and Givenchy runway shows.
In addition to his acerbic wit, much of Rakoff’s appeal lies in his tendency toward misanthropy and self-abuse: he visits a prominent Beverly Hills plastic surgeon to see if the flaws he finds in his own face can be objectively verified by experts. The weight loss he experiences over the course of a 20-day “detoxifying” fast has his friends wondering if he has cancer.
Any discussion of Rakoff inevitably leads to the requisite comparison with David Sedaris. Stylistic similarities aside, the two are both openly gay, urbane, and, apparently, very good friends and frequent collaborators. One apparent difference is that Rakoff is comfortable going for long stretches without trying to be funny, his humour often coming in sudden bursts. He is also more overtly political. And where Sedaris’s humour is often situational, Rakoff’s derives principally from his wickedly hilarious similes and finely worded disgust with the culture in which he has nevertheless chosen to make his home.